Vantage point

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Bush says there are now 6 N-Powers

There were murmurs about this, but few thought it would actually happen. In a move that is sure to bother China and infuriate Pakistan, the Bush administration has virtually said it accepts India as a Nuclear Weapons State, and has started proceedings to formalise the move.

This means that India will now be eligible to get any help and co-operation in Nuclear matters that the other 4 nuclear states under the NPT get.

From the sanctions in 1998 to this move in 2005, Indo-US relations have really travelled light-years. This move has both practical as well as symbolic and political ramifications.

In practical terms, the civilian nuclear technology program in India, i.e mainly nuclear power generation, will be able to buy material and technology from the US. It means that several Indian companies involved in India's nuclear program, to whom American companies could not sell anything other than stationery, will now face no such restrictions.

It also means that India can buy a lot of military equipment related to nuclear weapons, which it previously couldn't.

In politico-symbolic terms, this move makes the 50 year old "hyphenation" of India and Pakistan by successive American governments go up in a mushroom-shaped puff of smoke. All through the cold war, Pakistan was the ally of preference in South Asia. But after the cold war ended, the Clinton administration always sought to hyphenate India and Pakistan. Every little move made with regards to South Asia was carefully caliberated, so that neither country should feel jealous that the other was getting American attention.

A couple of announcements in the first few months of the Bush administration showed that this hyphenation may soon end. India fitted very well in the Neo-Con scheme of things and it was but natural that India and USA would come close. In fact a few months later, the Bush government announced lifting of some sanctions related to the 98 tests, over India, but not over Pakistan. It was the first small sign that the Bush government realises that long term friendship with India is more desirable than keeping Pakistan mollified.

But a few weeks later, 9/11 happened, and Pakistan's worth shot up. It was to serve as the launchpad for the war on terror in Afghanistan. So Pakistan had to be mollified, even if only in the short term. Over the next couple of years, sanctions were withdrawn, both for India and Pakistan. It semed like hyphenation was back.

The Americans though, kept talking of how India was a long term natural ally, and how we should not mind this coddling of Musharraf so much, as it is a temporary need.

This announcement has proved in one stroke that the Americans were serious. The one bone of contention in the Indo-US relations has been nuclear status. More so during Democratic regimes than Republican ones. Those who read my blog last year will remember that I sided with Bush and opposed Kerry, and this was one of the main reasons. The nuclear issue.

Ironically, if the 9/11 attacks prolonged the hyphenation, the 7/7 attacks have made it easier for the US to de-hyphenate India and Pakistan. The involvement of Pakistanis in 7/7 shows that the region is still the source of human ammunition for Al Qaeda. Pakistan is on the backfoot, slightly embarassed, and can not create as much noise as it usually would have.

The deal comes with some obligations that India must fulfil, but I think even in that, we have gotten a good bargain. India will have to grant IAEA access to its civilian nucelar facilities, but not military ones. So the IAEA can go to Tarapur, but not to Pokhran. It also means that India will have to clearly separate its military nuclear installations from the civilian ones, a much needed and welcome move. Civilian and Military applications of nuclear technology are totally different, and so far nuclear power generation has suffered precisely because such a demarcation had not been carried out yet.

India will have to stick to its unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, which was always going to be the case anyway, deal or no deal.

By pulling off this deal, Manmohan has made his visit the most successful foreign visit by a PM in decades.

Opponents of this decision in America have said that this decision will "open the door" for several other countries to do the same thing. They are missing the point. This decision shows that the Bush administration doesn't consider India as one of the "other countries", but as a key player, both economically and strategically, to counter China. It shows that they are confident that India won't set up a nuclear Walmart and proliferate all and sundry. The decision is all the more significant considering that India refused to support US on Iraq inspite of immense pressure.

The decision still has to be ratified by the Congress and by the group of countries which formed a cartel banning sale of certain material to India.